Once a month, members of the church come to do work on the church grounds, ranging from washing windows and vacuuming, mowing, raking, picking up trash, spreading beauty bark, and anything else that needs doing.
It’s been an unusually mild winter, and as a result, the mold has grown almost exponentially. It has taken over large patches of the lawn, and parts of the parking lot and driveway. Since the grass still isn’t quite high enough to cut, I planned to take on the mold. I wasn’t quite sure which tool would be best, so I took my flat shovel and my “zombie” tool. One side is shaped like a narrow, tapered hoe, and the other side has two pointed edges like flat hooks.
When I arrived, I put on my work gloves, and my wide-brimmed Tilley, so I could keep the drizzle out of my eyes. I grabbed the shovel, and started attacking the mold that was building up on the asphalt parking lot next to the sidewalk. The steel of the shovel made a lovely kind of ringing sound as I hunched over and scraped the mold like I was shoveling snow. It seemed to be scraping up a great deal of the low green substance, made even more like a slimy muck by the slow precipitation that had vacillated between drizzle and mist for the last 12 hours. However, I didn’t get too far before I realized that the shovel was leaving behind swaths of the mold that had started to scale up the side of the sidewalk, since I could only scrape the flat surface of the parking lot, and not the edge of the sidewalk where it met the parking lot. I went back to the car and got my zombie tool. The tapered edge worked well to remove the side mold, and even appeared to be doing better on the surface mold as well. I also didn’t need to hunch over as far, as the handle was longer.
As I made my way along the sidewalk, then out to the driveway curbing, I found myself surprised at how much mold had really taken root, especially along the entrance to the church property. I realized that it was no accident that the further I got from the church, and the closer I got to the edges of the property, the thicker the moss had become. Before long, my mind was examining the symbolic nature of what I was doing, and thinking about the lesson that this should have been teaching. In many ways, I think that we in the church fail to clean up ourselves like we clean up the property, or perhaps more appropriately, not enough of us do this work, like not enough of us show up on Saturday to do the work of maintaining and cleaning the grounds.
We all know someone who stands outside, and offers a criticism of the church in order to justify their separation from it. Sometimes, this excuse is rooted in a hubris that places them squarely at the center of creation, and is a dim, echoey place where the throne room of their heart is a place where they try hard to occupy a space never meant for them, suffering a loneliness that few can recognize, let alone address. Just as frequently, it is someone who unflinchingly comments about the hypocrisy they believe they see, rooted in an incomplete understanding of the Jesus we serve, and what he stands for. And some are correct in this diagnosis, without understanding the planks obscuring their own vision, or how much they don’t know.
I get to start this part with a confession of my own. I don’t spend nearly enough time doing the maintenance on my own spirit. Just like I need to spend time scraping at decay that grows at the edges of the parking lot and driveway, I need to do the same spending time reading and studying the Bible, and then considering what I read, and applying it to how I think and what I do. It can be difficult, in a world of distractions and competing priorities to make this part of a regular routine, let alone a daily one. And without doing it, we don’t think enough about the nature of sin, or how much we still commit it. The Word can’t work the changes in us that it was meant to, or at least not to the degree that it can or should, and as a result, the grace that saves us, and the one who died to give it both become cheap in our lives, as we fail to see the decay we ourselves carry, even as we see the decay surrounding us so clearly.
We cannot and should not ever lose sight of the fact that we ALL sin. Sometimes, the sin is obvious and open to those who surround us. Some sins are hidden, and no less pernicious, but require humility and self-examination to see, before we can ever think about changing them, and it is far too easy to acknowledge the obvious sins of others first. These become the hypocrisies that excuse others from even making the attempt to come to Christ, even if they fail to understand that it is grace that saves, because sin is inevitable. And sometimes, even if they understand the inevitability of sin, they don’t differentiate between the reflection that examines it and the repentance for it, and the fact that this is different from living in an unbroken state of it, without the growth and change that come from recognition, repentance, and a sincere attempt to change. The latter fosters humility and appreciation for grace; the former becomes a justification to do what is right in that person’s own eyes, and to find a fault in the faith which doesn’t exist. And because we don’t spend enough time in the Word, we are not able to exercise the discernment spoken of in Jude, or to find the right answer to such criticisms.
Now if you’ll excuse me, the rhythm of the rain is calling me to do some spiritual scraping.
Once again, I find myself struggling for words.
It can be a challenge for anyone to know what, if anything, to say at a difficult time. It gets harder when you are absent, and you cannot put any actions to work with the words. But when you make your living with words, the frustration gets even worse.
Because of my profession, I have had more experience with death than many. In truth, the only people who see it more are those in emergency services, law enforcement, medicine, clergy, and undertaking. It doesn’t get easier, but some come to sting more than others. I’ve had clients who have lived a long life, and are ready, or even welcome it. I’ve had clients who have had so much more they wanted to accomplish, and rally against the finality of what was coming. And I have known clients who have lost loved ones, especially children, who hadn’t yet actually begun living as most would understand or define it.
It is a horrible thing for a parent to outlive a child, because whether we like to admit it or not, children represent all our best hopes for the future. As parents, we protect them, we guide them, and we hope, some times against hope, that they can learn enough from our mistakes so as to not have to learn our hard-won lessons with the same difficulty and pain that we did. But we want them to live. We want them to know and savor every little experience that makes life as wonderful as it is. We want them to know the joy of bowling a strike, of hitting a home run, of winning the race. We want them to know the unexpected win of putting on a jacket and finding $20 in the pocket, of being asked out on a date by that person they didn’t think had noticed them, of that feeling of freedom that comes with your first set of car keys, or that feeling of absolute and unfiltered devotion that comes the first time you look into your child’s eyes. And when our children predecease us, many of these moments are lost. And whether that parent is a Christian or not, they feel death’s sting acutely at that time. I witnessed this myself when my Father passed away. I saw the haunted and lost look in my Grandfather’s eyes, and I know he was never the same.
The only comfort that we as observers and neighbors to such tragedies can take is when this grief is visited on believers, that they have knowledge and the hope that lets them understand that it isn’t the end. I’ve talked with those who felt that their grief and loss represented a weak faith, and it is those who I have reminded that we serve a God who became flesh, and knew this pain with us, as he demonstrated as he stood at the grave of his friend Lazarus, and cried with his family. Everyone who believes comes to have moments in the life of Christ that touch their hearts, and that make him real to each individual. For me, both moments are ones of tears. First, when he stands at the grave of Lazarus, weeping with those who knew him and loved him. This has always indicated to me that he understands that for those who know what only HE knew at that moment, that death is not the end, that those left behind will grieve for the loss in their own lives of the ones who have gone on. The Second moment for me is when Jesus is making a triumphant entrance to Jerusalem, to throngs of people cheering for him, believing him to be a savior, but not having any understanding of what that truly meant. I can only imagine the pain of knowing that you are about to do something that many people cheering today will never understand, or how awful it would be to know that the veil would never be lifted from the eyes of so many, because they would never want to sincerely know what it was he was going to do, or why he was going to do it. In both cases, it brings home the humanity of a Savior who seeks a personal relationship with each of us.
And yet, even when death comes to families of believers, and to people I know, and call friends, I struggle. I wrestle with the idea that I could ever say anything that can resonate through such pain. I question the notion that I could say anything that could possibly sound sincere, and not trite or cliched, and that could offer genuine comfort when hands and actions are far removed. What do you say to someone who is so wounded and in pain that they can’t realize how much they are being carried? And as I struggled with this in church today, once again, I had that moment of serendipity, when the Spirit was there to provide what it was I was seeking, in the form of the scriptures we were discussing today, and the topic we were discussing. 2 Corinthians 4:1-18:
The Light of Christ’s Gospel
4 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Cast Down but Unconquered
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.12 So then death is working in us, but life in you. [emphasis added]
13 And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,”[a] we also believe and therefore speak,14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.
Seeing the Invisible
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
As human beings, we miss every aspect of their companionship that we have come to hold dear; as believers, we miss the light of Christ that illuminated them from within, helping to light the way for us and for all who knew them.
My Father-in-law gave an excellent sermon this morning.
One of the reasons I try to take notes is not because I want to copy everything from the sermon, but because a really good sermon sparks a much different, but still “Eureka!” type moment in which I suddenly recognize something that was always there in a different light. Today was one of those days, but instead of one new contemplation, I got a two-fer.
The focus of the sermon was one of Jesus’ parables, but one that was unique because he didn’t leave it to us to discern his meaning, because he plainly explained the point of the story himself.
The Parable of the Persistent Widow
18 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, 2 saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. 3 Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ 4 And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’”
6 Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. 7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
I took some time to ponder that. It isn’t that much of a stretch to say that some of our Judges today fall into that category. I wrote about how that dual disregard is blinding many of them to the truth in a different essay yesterday, but the parable underscored the fact that it is not a new problem, and that when man’s law is administered by those who respect neither people nor God, the result is that justice becomes both a fluid concept, subject to the preferences and whims of some, and a commodity that is subjectively conferred on those who can offer advantages to the deciders in exchange for this preference. This is what happens when a society denies its origins. This is what happens when truth becomes relative.
The other takeaway for me was born out from the other point Pastor Marty was making…Jesus’ and the Apostles’ focus on prayer. Whether it was Jesus’ point here, or the instruction from Paul to pray without ceasing, prayer is central to the individual’s Christian experience. This I already knew, but what occurred to me, other than my utter failure to follow the instructions in this area, was that those who are much better than I am when it comes to prayer really are the foot soldiers of God.
They pray when they are asked to do so. They pray for those who make the request because their own understanding and abilities have failed, and they have nothing left. They do it without judgement. They’ll do it in the middle of the night, and they will do it in the middle of the day. They will do it with a quiet and simple faith that whatever the answer is, it will be the right answer, regardless of when it comes, or when that understanding dawns on those meant to benefit from it. And they do it with the calm patience that understands that the work is in the sowing and the eventual harvest is for God’s glory…no matter who does that part.
Once again, I am humbled by my own blatant inadequacy.
Last week, the Boy Scouts of America bowed to public pressure and made the mistaken decision to allow openly gay scouts to join, while keeping in place the ban on gay scoutmasters, atheists, and agnostics.
One of my Facebook friends, a person I respect, took the position that this was a good thing. His explanation, if I took it correctly, is (1) The BSA is and always has been a secular organization, (2) Excluding gay scouts is “judgemental”, and “Judging isn’t for us”, and (3) These boys deserve the opportunity to become the young men that scouting can help mold them into.
I’ll take these points, in order, as I explain why this decision is a mistake.
1. The BSA is and always has been a secular organization.
Given the fact that the Boy Scout Oath itself requires the affiant to do his “duty to God and his country”, this is a remarkable proposition. It becomes more remarkable when you open a dictionary and start reading.
Secular. Adj.1. of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests.
2. not pertaining to or connected with religion ( opposed to sacred ): secular music.
3. (of education, a school, etc.) concerned with nonreligious subjects.
4. (of members of the clergy) not belonging to a religious order; not bound by monastic vows ( opposed to regular ).
5. occurring or celebrated once in an age or century: the secular games of Rome.
6. going on from age to age; continuing through long ages.
Secularism. Noun.1. secular spirit or tendency, especially a system of political or social philosophy that rejects all forms of religious faith and worship.
2. the view that public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element.
Secularize. Verb.1. to make secular; separate from religious or spiritual connection or influences; make worldly or unspiritual; imbue with secularism.
2. to change (clergy) from regular to secular.
3. to transfer (property) from ecclesiastical to civil possession or use.
These definitions hardly comport with the Scout Oath, or The Scout Law.
The Scout Oath:
On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
The Scout Law:
A Scout is:
Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean,and Reverent.
Nor do they comport with the institution’s past, as demonstrated in the following pages from the 1942 printing of the Handbook for Scoutmasters.
I think that’s enough on this point for now, but I’ll return to it at the end.
2. Excluding gay scouts is “judgemental”, and “judging isn’t for us”.
This is where things have gotten out of hand with too much of Christendom today, because of a conscious decision to embrace the ignorance of non-believers. We let those who do not walk in the faith and who are not filled with the Holy Spirit selectively read our scripture, and stop before they reach the part that changes the meaning of the point they want to make. Consequently, when we dare to call sin by its name and mark it for what it is, we often have Matthew 7:1-5 tossed back in our faces.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
But this leaves off the final verse of the passage, verse 6.
6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.
It doesn’t exactly square with the idea that Christians aren’t supposed to judge, does it? But it does imply that there is an expectation of judgement. Still, occasionally I encounter such a person with the presence of mind to avoid this and instead quote Luke 6:37-42.
37 “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
39 And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. 41 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
At first blush, it also apparently forbids judging. But, as with the previous verses, the last one is key, as it clearly contemplates judgment…you couldn’t remove the plank from your brother’s eye without it. But, if you read both passages carefully, what is required is that the judge must first look upon themselves with honest reflection, and address their own foibles before looking upon those of others and addressing them. This is borne out in John 7:24.
“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
This was Christ addressing the Pharisees who were condemning him for being about his Father’s work on the sabbath. He didn’t tell them not to judge; he told them to judge with a discerning judgement. This either escapes the notice of, or is purposely omitted by those who believe themselves worthy to preach to us. And either out of ignorance, or fear of not being “liked”, we let them. Because of this failure in ourselves, we fail to meet our calling to be salt, which is both an irritant, and a preservative, and we fail in our calling to be light, because our desire to not offend means that we will not speak the truth to those in bondage to sin, instead opting to let them believe that they are not in an immortal peril, allowing their chains to drag them to a second death when they leave this world.
Like it or not, if we believe that we have to do our duty to God, then we need to come to grips with the fact that this was an occaision that called for judgement, and that the wrong judgement was made.
3. These boys deserve the opportunity to become the young men that scouting can help mold them into.
Certainly, this is the point of strongest emotional appeal, not just to those on the outside of the faith, but to many within. It calls to mind the parable of the Lost Sheep in Matthew 18:12-14 and Luke 15:1-7.
12 “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? 13 And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying:
4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.
So why isn’t this a compelling reason to allow them in? Isn’t it a core tenent of Christianity that we are all sinners? Isn’t this the reason that we need the salvation that Christ brought? Isn’t this why we needed him to pay a price we can never afford? And wasn’t payment of that price what ended the separation between God and his people? Yes, this is all true, but the distinction is that it isn’t about a sinner struggling with his sin, and trying to better himself by drawing closer to God; it is about a sinner who is unrepentant in his sin, and continuing to blatantly and openly remain in a state of sin. This distinction is best demonstrated in John 5:10-14.
10 The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.”
11 He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’”
12 Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” [Emphasis Added.]
Homosexuality isn’t like other sins. It is a sin against the self, and as such, is unique. It is named very clearly in the Old Testament and in the New Testament as a sin. The NIV calls it “detestible”. The NKJV calls it an “abomination”. These aren’t categorizations; they are bywords. They are warnings. In the New Testament, it is seen as a sin for which the consequence is separation from God. Romans 1:18-32 puts this into a select group of people who are given over to a debased mind. Possessing a debased mind, they cannot, by their nature, know God, let alone do their “duty to God” any more than I could chose to sprout wings and fly.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 also describes homosexuality as being separated from God, as they are once again listed in the select group who will not receive the Kingdom of God.
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
So why does it matter? Why wouldn’t we admit them so they can know the truth and be saved? Certainly no believer wants to see someone suffer in bondage, without even the knowledge that they are in bondage, right? And clearly, Paul is acknowledging that some of whom to which he was writing were once among these. Once, but not anymore. This is the hope for deliverance in the salvation that we each have to come to accept in order to receive. In the case of these Corinthians in the early church, that salvation didn’t happen because they were welcomed and encouraged to remain in their state of sin. And those who felt entitled to do so were those Paul warned us to keep separate from in 1 Corinthians 5:9-12.
9 I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.
12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?
Once again, we are told in the Bible to judge (with discernment), this time, in chosing the company we keep. And it isn’t the only place you find such warnings in the Bible. Paul expounds on the reason in 1 Corinthians 15:33-34.
33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
This is in addition to other verses and passages such as the wisdom in Proverbs, and “knowing them by their fruit.”
If we extrapolate this, then we see that the danger isn’t that the lost boy will stay lost; it is that the lost boy will confuse and mislead others until they too are lost. This, more than anything, is why this decision is wrong, and why it creates a conundrum which cannot be resolved. Either “duty to God” means something, or it means nothing, and is simply a vestigial appendage that is no different from the “ceremonial deism” described by the Supreme Court in decisions where they impose a “freedom” from religion, rather than recognizing the sovereign invoked in the Nation’s Charter, while it justifies maintaining such occurrences as prayers to open Congress, by a Congressional Chaplin, or the plea “God Save This Honorable Court!” which opens its own proceedings.
If we say a homosexual scout can fulfill a “Duty to God”, then we ignore what is set forth in the scriptures of the three major religions of the world; if we say it is “ceremonial deism”, then we are asking them to violate the points of the Scout Law requiring them to be trustworthy, as they are swearing an oath that they do not believe, nor are they being honest, as they swear to an obligation that they have no intention of understanding or fulfilling. Either way, we are setting them up to fail, as we remove one of the last institutions that once instilled its members with virtues and integrity, and sought to instill succeeding generations with the same, and either way, it does not bode well for the future of an organization that failed to heed the instruction in Romans 12:2
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
and instead chose to conform to that which is inconsistent with its own stated first duty.